An increase in awareness of animal welfare in Trinidad and Tobago is resulting in fewer owners choosing to dock (cut off) the tails of their dogs.
Reasons for docking the tails of dogs are found throughout history: it was believed by the early Romans that tail docking prevented rabies but this is unsubstantiated.
There was also a theory that pre-dated evolution that if tails were cut, offspring would be born with no tails. This belief, known as Lamarck’s theory of acquired characteristics, persisted until the end of the 18th century.
Tails were cut off in dogs pitched against each other in fighting rings to try to reduce injury to the animals during the match.
Various tax schemes may also have accounted for the proliferation of tail docking. In some areas, dogs used for work were not taxed.
One area of work was hunting so tails were cut to avoid them getting tangled in brush and undergrowth. As a docked tail became a symbol of a working dog that was not subject to tax, lots of pet owners would cut off their dogs’ tails to avoid having to pay tax on the dog, whether or not the dog was used for work. In other areas, farmers were taxed according to the length of their dogs’ tails, so docking was used to reduce the tax liability. While it was customary for breed standards to require a docked tail in certain breeds such as Rottweilers, it is now common for docked tails to be optional.
Several welfare concerns surround tail docking. Tails are cut off when puppies are just a few days old. The hair on the tail is removed first. A clamp is placed on the cut off point, and the tail is sliced off with a scalpel. Alternatively, the blood supply to the tail is constricted with a rubber ligature for a few days until the tail falls off. The remaining wound may require sutures, and the tail is bandaged.
The dog suffers a great deal of pain during and after this procedure, which severs the muscles, tendons, nerves, cartilage, and bone of the tail.
Traditionally, no anaesthesia is used. Long-term pain is caused by pathological nerve activity as a result of tissue damage and the development of neuromas. There is evidence that docking weakens the muscles involved in defecation and in maintaining the strength of the pelvic diaphragm, leading to an increased risk of faecal incontinence, perineal hernia, and urinary incontinence.
The removal of the tail deprives the dog of an important means of expressing its intentions and emotions and can lead to misunderstandings with both people and other dogs as communication with a tail no longer exists. The pain and distress caused by docking may also negatively affect the socialisation process in puppies. The removal of the dog’s tail may reduce the strength of the dog’s back and compromise its balance and agility.
Some breeds use their tails as rudders when swimming. The dog may experience trauma and phantom or psychological pain for life.
While the Trinidad and Tobago Veterinary Association (TTVA) has no clear policy against the docking of tails; the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) are all opposed to the tail docking of dogs (except for the therapeutic docking of an injured or diseased tail).
Additionally, the docking of tails for cosmetic purposes is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2023